Several area mayors to feel pangs of meager diet for a day

Several area mayors to feel pangs of meager diet for a day

The mayors of three local cities are going to eat today like 1.9 million Illinoisans do year-round: on $4.47, the average daily SNAP benefit for an individual in this state.

The Eastern Illinois Foodbank wants to spread the word about the barriers of accessing high-quality, nutritious food on a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program budget, and to muster the support of public and private hunger-relief programs through the SNAP Hunger Challenge.

The mayors are doing the challenge early and are inviting others to take part from Sept. 9-15.

Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen said the challenge is meant to be a snapshot of a different life: one where the reality is that the government's help isn't enough.

"That's why places like the food bank become very important," she said. "And another important piece of this is to have empathy and expose yourself to what is real life for many people and what food insecurity and being hungry actually mean."

Challenge takers will be posting photos, videos and reflections about their experiences on social media as they go through it. Several people in addition to Feinen, Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin and Paxton Mayor Bill Ingold have already signed up to take the challenge for anywhere from one day to a whole week.

Feinen said she'll try to get by on a can of beans, maybe some rice and canned tomatoes, but she really wants to see if she can afford to buy some tea, her favorite drink.

Ingold is planning to eat SpaghettiOs, some Ramen and a fruit cup or two with lots of water today.

"It's amazing to think that people live like this," he said. "A lot of times, we don't realize what's happening in the real world, and that people in different circumstance are really strapped for cash. I think this will bring the issue to the forefront of people's minds."

Paris Mayor Craig Smith, who is also taking the challenge, was planning a day of canned vegetables, beans and a pouch of tuna. He found it tough to put together a balanced, healthy option with such a limited budget.

"Normally, I shop in the fresh produce aisle, but for this challenge, I will have to go with processed food," he said.

Jim Hires, CEO of the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, is a veteran of three challenges. One thing he noticed was how obsessed one becomes when having to plan meals so far in advance.

"One time, I had timed my meals wrong and ended up eating an apple I had for tomorrow because I got hungry after dinner," he said. "Then, I realized I'd eaten half my lunch."

He said people who aren't food insecure often take it for granted that they'll eat every day.

"It's almost impossible to live on SNAP benefits alone," Hires said. "Food banks supplement SNAP, but SNAP is the cornerstone of the food assistance in this country. We make up the difference, but we can't do it all."